Our Best Stuff From the Week We Finally Got to August

What passes for a 'slow' news week in these very interesting times.

Bad news, folks: We almost had to reprimand our reporter Declan Garvey this week. On Thursday afternoon, he and Steve and I were Slacking (not slacking, mind you, but the messaging app called Slack) to nail down plans for Friday’s Morning Dispatch. And he said, “I think we’ve just about made it through our first ‘slow’ news week since we’ve been in existence.”

Now, he tells us he immediately went around and knocked all the wood in his apartment, but I did threaten to send a jinx-worthy tweet the next time his beloved Cubs had a no-hitter going. 

To be fair, we got through the rest of the week without much ado. At least relatively speaking. But what qualifies as a slow news week these days? On Monday, HBO released Jonathan Swan’s interview with President Trump, and it was clearly the most challenging interview the president had sat down for during his time in the White House. 

On Tuesday, an explosion rocked Beirut, Lebanon killing more than 150, a death toll that is like to rise. More than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in a port facility after being impounded from a Russian ship in 2013. By comparison, the bomb that blew up the Oklahoma City federal building included two tons of the same material.

On Thursday, we learned that another 1.2 million Americans had filed new unemployment claims. That makes 20 straight weeks that more than 1 million Americans had done so, and definitely put a damper on the other jobs-related news of the week, which was that the economy added 1.8 million jobs in July. One step forward, two steps back. 

Also on Thursday, Trump issued an executive order that would ban “transactions” by Americans on Chinese social media platforms WeChat and TikTok in 45 days. He’s been pushing for Microsoft to buy TikTok (and declaring the government should get a cut of the deal.) That might not sound earth-shattering, but the order was written in a way that generated considerable uncertainty about the fate of ancillary products, like, say Fortnite. No TikTok? No Fortnite? Whether they see these developments as good or bad, they are very big news to parents of teenagers. (It sounds like Fornite will be fine. My feelings are … mixed.)

Befitting a slow news week, I guess, some of the biggest stories are what didn’t happen. Congress didn’t come to an agreement on what to include in the next round of economic relief, and so millions of Americans are without any supplemental unemployment insurance. And Joe Biden didn’t announce his running mate, leaving all of us more time to wonder about who it might be.

August is typically a slow news month, at least in non-presidential election years. This year, as we all know, is different. The presidential campaign is far more subdued than normal because of the pandemic. But Americans are still dying from coronavirus, the school year has started or is about to start, depending on where you live, and reopening plans are complex and full of uncertainty. If we’re lucky, we’ll see some NBA playoff basketball this month, but the football season is looking pretty iffy. (As I was writing this newsletter, I saw the news that the Mid-American Conference, home to my alma mater of Ohio University, has canceled its football season.)

The good news is that The Dispatch will be here for all of it. We don’t exactly feel refreshed after that “slow” week, but we are committed to bringing you great reporting and commentary. We appreciate your support and we’re glad you’re here. 

Now on to our best stuff from the week.

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Supreme Court Precedent Killed Breonna Taylor

You’ve probably heard the name Breonna Taylor in connection with the Black Lives Matter protests. Louisville police served a no-knock warrant on her home in early March, seeking evidence of drug trafficking by her boyfriend. Taylor was not a suspect, but died after being shot eight times. David looks at the history of no-knock raids and blames their rise on a series of Supreme Court decisions: “Knock and announce,” did not apply, the court held, in circumstances where police feared violence, a suspect had escaped from custody and was seeking refuge in his home, and when police feared the destruction of evidence. Throw in “castle doctrine” statutes that permit licensed gun owners to protect their property when they believe someone is unlawfully entering their dwelling, and you have a toxic stew.

Why Is the GOP Fighting Universal Mail-In-Voting So Hard?

The GOP has launched lawsuits in 19 states over election laws that will make mail-in voting more prominent in this fall’s election. Audrey Fahlberg digs into the issue. Some states have been doing vote-by-mail exclusively for years and have encountered little fraud, which makes the GOP’s aversion to mail-in voting look partisan. But there are real concerns. As Audrey mentions (and as Sarah did in The Sweep), having to turn to mailed-in ballots on a dime is likely to cause problems in some counties and states. “Democrats often hold up the five all-vote-by-mail states to advance their argument here, but it’s important to remember that none of them send ballots to inactive voters,” an RNC spokesperson told The Dispatch. 

How Trump Can Win

The odds may not be in his favor right now, at least if most of the polls are accurate, but in The Sweep, Sarah looks at how the many issues presented by implementing mail-in voting in places that have little experience with it could benefit President Trump. She does the math involved and concludes: “Assuming there’s a lot more mail-in ballots this time around, Joe Biden may need to be running ahead of Trump by more than 5 points with people who intend to vote to actually receive more valid votes in the final count.”

Now, for the best of the rest of our stuff.

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  • In the G-File, Jonah has some thoughts on the longstanding intra-lefty debate as to whether class issues or race issues are more responsible for America’s sins. “The champions of prioritizing race always had the better argument when talking race. If you’re writing or thinking about the history of blacks in America, race just seems like an obviously more useful prism than class. But it doesn’t work the other way around. When writing about ‘whites’ in America, race is much less useful a construct than class. 

  • Andrew checks in on the negotiations for the next round of economic relief from Congress, and he finds the Republicans largely twiddling their thumbs while Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin negotiates with the Democrats.

  • Charlotte dives into the mysterious world of art dealing to explain how sanctioned Russian oligarchs can get access to the U.S. economy. 

  • President Trump is STILL talking about that cognitive test he “aced” and using it in campaign ads. Akino Yamashita is a physician, and she breaks down why the test, while simple is important and useful to doctors.

  • On the pods: Jonah talked to Megan McArdle about so many topics (not just dogs and New York, but plenty on both) that it turned into two Remnant episodes: Part I. It’s August, so Advisory Opinions is taking a partial break from legal nerdery and focusing on nerdy nerdery, talking to Steve Brusatte, a professor of paleontology and evolution at the University of Edinburgh about dinosaurs. And on the Dispatch Podcast, the gang talked about Jonathan Swan’s interview with President Trump and much,  much more.

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images.